We are starting to understand better that looking after our children and teens’ mental health is just as important as looking after their physical health. A popular method of reflective writing that furthers overall mental health and physical health and wellness is journaling.
Journaling is not a new concept. The first diaries of an introspective nature were written by ladies of the royal Japanese court in the 10th century. Since the 1960’s, the benefits of journaling have been continually researched and it’s now a recognised powerful tool that people use in everyday life.
The Benefits of Journaling
Journaling has a multitude of purposes and mental health benefits: including:
• Identifying and tracking short and long-term goals / action planning.
• Personal development: envisioning and developing your future self.
• Reflecting on daily experiences and relationships.
• Understanding your personal values.
• Improves self-awareness.
• Helps relaxation.
• Healthy way to process thoughts, especially for children and young people who struggle to talk about their feelings.
• Tracks worries or problems so patterns and triggers can be identified.
• Can help reduce stress and improve mood.
• Helps to identify and address negative thoughts and behaviours.
• Helps to build a habit of positive self-talk, acceptance and self-love.
• It is a method of self-care.
One of the best things about journaling is that you can do it when it suits you – at home, in the park, on holiday. It’s something that everyone can incorporate into their daily life and you don’t need to be great at writing or have any special skills. You can choose different ways to suit you. For example:
- Paper journal
- Digital journal
- Art journal
- Audio log
What is a Mental Health Journal?
Mental health journaling offers a safe space to express feelings, difficult emotions, ideas and thoughts which may be difficult to share out loud. It’s up to the writer whether they want to keep it private or to share it.
In truth, a mental health journal is anything you want it to be. You can call it what you like – a journal, a wellness journal, a mental health journal.
The idea of privacy for a child is highly valued to them, so if they choose to keep a journal private, you must respect this.
If your child finds it difficult to communicate about thoughts and feelings externally, a journal can be a trusted, unconditional tool that gives no judgment.
You don’t have to be dealing with mental health issues or have a diagnosed mental illness in order to journal. However, when a child or teen is coping with a mental health condition (such as anxiety or depression), writing is a good way of processing experiences. It can help them release fears and anger.
What Should a Teenager Write in a Journal?
Regular or daily journal writing can be a great way of helping teens form a writing habit. Their journal is a platform where they are free to step out of their comfort zone and explore and understand themselves better.
A teenager can write anything that matters to them in their mental health journal. It can be structured or unstructured.
Can Journaling be Included in a Teen’s Daily or Morning Routine?
Not everyone finds regular writing easy. The beauty of journaling is that your teen can pick it up at any time they feel it would be helpful, writing down little things as they think of them. Maybe they find it difficult to talk to family members or friends about things they find embarrassing or overwhelming. Writing it down can help to ‘download’ and relieve stresses and worries.
If writing is difficult for your teen, they may get creative, for example creating a daily piece of drawn or digital art representing how they feel, or recording a short audio each day.
What Should a Younger Child Write in a Journal?
Younger children may need help to get started with journaling. They may find it easier to incorporate both writing and drawing, or drawing alone. You can also encourage them to use rating scales (such as smiley faces or numbers) to measure how they’re feeling.
Alternatively, younger children and tweens may prefer a ready-made fillable journal with daily prompts, such as the Happy Confident Me Life Skills Journal.
What are Journal Prompts?
Journaling prompts are a great way of presenting ideas that help you to make a start, giving a clear direction on what to write. They are often printed into journals, but you and your child could create your own. Below, I describe some mental health journal prompt examples for teenagers and younger children.
7 Example Journal Prompts for Teenagers
1) What do you like best about yourself?
2) What are you grateful for?
3) What made you proud today?
4) Describe something you struggled with this week.
5) How do you feel right now?
6) What was the best compliment you gave someone this week?
7) How do you try to deal with difficult emotions?
7 Example Journal Prompts for Younger Children
1) What subject do you enjoy best at school and why?
2) What is your favourite comfort at home?
3) When was the last time you felt scared, can you remember why?
4) Write about your favourite movie.
5) What do you want to be when you grow up?
6) What do you do when you are happy?
7) What is your favourite animal?
Great Journal Topics for Kids
Here are some mental health journal ideas to suit different age children.
• Favourite memories
• Favourite holidays
• What will they be when they grow up
• A favourite place to hide
Age 12 – Teenagers
• Places you feel happiest
• Fears and worries
• Future goal setting and dreams
• Healthy habits
• Things you like/love about yourself
• Things you’d like to change
• Describe Sentimental items and memories
• Coping mechanisms for when I’m having a hard time or experiencing negative emotions
TAKE THE QUIZ!
What Should be Included in a Mental Health Journal?
There are unlimited mental health journal ideas and no hard and fast rules. You can find a blank note book and choose your own prompts each day. Or you can purchase a “made for you” mental health journal and use the printed prompts inside.
Try and find a journal that is age appropriate and ‘connects’ with your child in their world. A teenagers’ needs will be very different to a 6 year old’s. Here are some examples of the content that could be included.
|What Might Be Included in a Mental Health Journal?|
|A wellness tracker or mood tracker (for example, a score out of ten or a smiley face scale)|
|Questions and prompts such as “What went well today?”|
|Gratitude practise e.g. “List 3 things you are grateful for today”.|
|Blank space for expressive drawing or doodles.|
|Checklists to build positive habits e.g. tracking how many glasses of water you drank.|
|Quotes or positive affirmations|
|End of week reflections|
Bullet Journaling for Mental Health
Bullet journaling is a system for organization and productivity. It uses a simple, customizable format to help people keep track of their tasks, events, and notes.
In bullet journaling, you create a “key” of symbols to represent different types of information, such as tasks, events, and notes. You then use a notebook to create an index of pages. Next you begin logging your information in a monthly, weekly, and daily format.
The system encourages reflection and planning, and allows individuals to track their progress on goals and projects.
One of the key features of bullet journaling is its flexibility and adaptability. You can customize the system to fit your individual needs. You can incorporate extra pages for habit tracking, goal setting, and other personal objectives.
Teenagers may enjoy bullet journaling, especially if they are interested in ‘intention setting’, goals and accountability. This video will help them get started.
Whereas regular journaling is designed to create an awareness of oneself, bullet journaling helps to provide the tools to carry out intentions in a more structured way. It involves logging, listing and setting tasks.
What are Some Fun Journal Topics?
There’s plenty of fun to be had! Not all mental health journal ideas need to be serious, reflective or feel like work. Here are some lighter topics to include:
• You are a superhero, what is your super power?
• You own a time machine. Where would you go, who would you meet?
• Think about a talent you wish that you had. What’s one way that you can start practising it?
• What would you do if you were the main character in your favourite fairy tale?
• What’s the funniest joke you can think of?
Do Therapists Recommend Journaling?
Yes. People who seek professional help are often encouraged by their therapists to journal. Journaling about past or present experiences helps us process, reflect and learn. Alternatives to mental health journaling include: writing a love letter to yourself or someone else, or drawing your feelings.
Journaling is a self-care method that I use myself. Professionally, my work as a counsellor requires me to observe, reflect and learn and personal journaling is no different really.
“Journaling can help with processing through negative thoughts and feelings. It can be a way to let out strong and intense emotions that might be challenging to cope with.” (Talkspace Therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC)
3 Top Tips for Sucessful Journaling
1) Quiet Space
You can journal anywhere. Teenagers will probably prefer a quiet place where they won’t be disturbed but a younger child may need some scaffolding from a parent nearby.
2) No Right or Wrong
There aren’t really any rules, but journals do typically follow a structure. The most important thing is that your child’s writing helps them process emotions, thoughts and helps them learn about themselves.
3) Make it Habit
Committing to frequent journal entry will help your child to see the connection of what they write and reflect and how they manage their emotions and feelings or perhaps their approach to a difficult situation and recognise good things about themselves.
It’s a great idea to encourage your child to set aside a few minutes each day or several days a week at the same time (maybe first thing in the morning) to make their journal entries. This then becomes routine, or habit forming.
Creative Mental Health Journal Ideas for Children aged 6-14
Not everyone enjoys writing or finds this easy. Here are some alternative creative ideas which can help your child explore and communicate events, thoughts, feelings and actions.
• Visual diagrams – outlining a friendship or support network.
• Emojis – the use of characters which show expressions and feelings.
• Artwork – drawing a storyboard about something they’re struggling with.
Where to Get a Therapeutic Journal
Different varieties of journals can be found at local bookstores, online, or you can devise your own! Lots have dates, as people tend to start using them at the beginning of the year. However, you can use a 365 day journal or just a lined book. It doesn’t have to be smart or expensive.
The Happy Self Journal has a super range of journals for children aged 3 up to adults and is recommended by psychologists, teachers and paediatricians. The age-appropriate mental health journal ideas are fun, engaging, challenging and progressive.
I’ve shared some mental health journal ideas with you here and hope that its something you can enjoy talking about with your children. Remember, they can use their journal for all kinds of things, big or small. Write, talk, doodle, draw… whatever way they wish to express themselves.
Hayley Vaughan Smith is a Person Centred Counsellor accredited by the National Counselling Society. She is the founder and counsellor at The Ridge Practice in Buckinghamshire, and Counsellor at Everlief Child Psychology.
Hayley has a special interest in bereavement counselling and has worked as a bereavement volunteer with Cruse Bereavement Care since 2019. Being a mum to 3 girls is hard work and rewarding in equal measure and gardening and walking in nature is her own personal therapy. Hayley believes being in nature, whatever the weather, is incredibly beneficial for mental health well-being.
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